Angela Alvig, CPA

The Importance of Family Meetings, For Everyone

Published April 20205 minute readInsights from Angela Alvig

Yesterday I had the privilege of leading a client’s family meeting on Zoom. I am one member of the family’s team of professional advisors, assisting them with their complex real estate portfolio and managing communication to multiple adult children who are beneficiaries of a family trust. 

As a fantastic dialogue among the family members and the advisor team unfolded on my computer screen, I was reminded of the importance of family meetings.   As I reflected further, I was struck by the notion that family meetings are a useful tool for all families, not just families with complex wealth structures. 

Formal, face to face communication benefits every family. Each family member values being communicated with and knowing what’s going on.

While most of us are hunkered down with some or all of our immediate family, yet separated from other family members, family meetings can play a valuable role. For some topics and families, meetings can be in person; for others, they must take place digitally.

Topics of family discussion can range from day-to-day minutiae to big-picture overviews. Here are some suggestions for how family meetings can be used by everyone:

Clarify Expectations about Daily Routine

Knowing what to expect is generally grounding and reassuring for all parties. Kids of all ages can benefit from clarity around expectations, especially now that their routines have dramatically changed, with distance learning from home. For example, are there additional chores they will need to help with during the day? Is lunch a free-for-all or is there a plan? Include everyone in the decision-making process. We all tend to be more motivated and follow through with our responsibilities when we’ve had some say in the matter.

Make Holidays, Birthdays and Other Important Dates Special

Let’s face it, this is not a normal spring but that doesn’t mean special days have to come and go without proper recognition. Try to keep family traditions intact as much as possible, or invent some new ones!  Rummy tournament, anyone?  

Discuss Financial Matters and Estate Planning With Your Parents

We all are thinking more about the unknown in these difficult times. I see people wanting to plan more and more, and that’s a good thing. See some of our past blogs about helping to organize your parents’ finances.

Discuss Household Finances with Your Spouse Or Partner

Has your income been impacted by COVID-19? Make plans to improve your financial resilience. Are you feeling stressed about finances during this crisis? Make a plan to have emergency cash reserves for next time a crisis hits. Review your investment portfolios and work with your advisors to be positioned for opportunities when the economy turns around – it always does. Yes, the uncertainty is destabilizing, maybe even frightening. Try to lean into it, to give you motivation to communicate with your partner and make concrete, useful plans.

Address the Elephant in the Room

Don’t avoid the topic everyone is thinking about just because it might be a hard conversation. The challenges of a crisis translate into an opportunity for us all to step up our authenticity and address what really matters. It reminds us that life is uncertain, and we don’t have forever. Embrace this challenge and awareness. 

Be Gentle

Practice “yes, and…” rather than disagreeing with or invalidating one another. Avoid making value judgments. Instead, express things in terms of what “works” or “doesn’t work” for you. 

Conclude Meetings with a Recap and Reminder

Note down your conclusions and agreements, and review them for clarity before everyone goes their separate ways. In some cases, like agreements around chores, screen time, honoring Mom and Dad’s work schedule, or home schooling, it helps to craft a visual reminder and post it in a common space. 

During this unique time, we all have the opportunity to hone new skills and adapt our personal and financial practices to meet our family’s needs.  Conducting family meetings and incorporating these best practices will help make this time a little less painful for all, and perhaps you may find you are actually more productive!